The story that best describes Dolphins star Ndamukong Suh's friendship with investing titan Warren Buffett isn't when they arm-wrestled last year or when they met for pancakes at the Village Inn ("Kids Eat Free") last month in Nebraska.
It was years ago, in their first meeting, one for which Suh prepared as he would for a big game. He wrote out questions to ask Buffett, 85, founder of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world's richest men. He brought pad and pen to take notes.
Suh wore jacket and tie and arrived two hours early, because he was brought up to respect other people's time.
"I actually was mad for being that late," Suh said.
"I was excited," he said.
You have your heroes. Suh has his. Maybe that's the best way to understand the Dolphins' new star, a 6-foot-4, 307-pound pile of on-field force and off-field interests that set him apart from most athletes, right down to his line: "I don't play video games or watch much TV unless I'm lazy. I like to read about (business) deals."
That explains why his world doesn't just include a friendship with Buffett, but also TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Mongolia, and its chief financial officer, Bill Gerber.
In his spare time, Suh has sought business advice from former athletes like Roger Staubach ("Probably the most successful athlete after his career," Suh says), Junior Bridgeman ("He owns 150 Wendy's") and Magic Johnson ("I took 10 pages of notes when we talked").
"I was blessed to come into a great fortune," said Suh, who has signed a six-year, $114 million contract. "Football will end — not soon — hopefully, but it will. The last few years, I've tried to steadily grow in my understanding of business so I'll gradually ramp up what I want to do after football."
The first conversation he had with Buffett took place in Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway office in Omaha. It wasn't technically their first meeting, as they both remember shaking hands in the Nebraska football team's locker room during Suh's senior year, minutes before kickoff against Michigan.
"He knew my name," Suh said. "I was like, 'Wow, Warren Buffett.' "
"That was all of maybe five seconds — he had a game to play," said Buffett, a Nebraska booster.
Suh asked Tom Osborne, the former Nebraska coach, about arranging a longer visit with Buffett. Osborne warned of receiving similar requests through the years that Buffett declined.
But Buffett agreed to meet Suh at the Berkshire Hathaway office. And, as Buffett says, "We hit it off right away."
"To tell how down to earth Mr. Buffett is, we just sat there and talked like friends," Suh said. "He's an amazing man. I didn't even open the notebook I took. We just talked about life and goals and visions and concepts and how he got to where he was."
"At some point, I asked if I could shadow him and he said I was more than welcome to shadow him any time."
Suh has done that. He has sat in Berkshire Hathaway meetings. He has met with Buffett for lunch. He mock-arm-wrestled Buffett for charity once and on the business channel CNBC a second time, losing both times. ("I'm toying with him!" Buffett said.)
"Every time, we have a great conversation," Suh said. "And they're really conversations around the concepts of business or understanding commodities, how can all work together. It's not (Buffett saying), 'You should go pick this stock.'
"He knows my goals, and he's like, 'You should think about this' or 'This is some advice from people I've worked with.' It's also him with open arms saying, if you want to learn about something else, if you want to learn about the aviation business — which is something I'm very into — he said, 'I own NetJets' and opened the door for me to go out and learn from those people."
Gerber, who recently retired from Ameritrade, said, "He's a quick study. We've talked about how to look at risk versus return in a deal, and he asks very good questions. He can relate conversations we've had to a current-day opportunity. He'll say, 'This reminds me of when we talked about X.' And he's right."
This is how the newest Dolphin star works and thinks. It's a stretch to say he intellectualizes the defensive tackle position.
But his mind is wonderfully different, as linebacker Chris McCain noted Suh's use of unusual words for an NFL locker rooms — "Like he'll say, 'indeterminate,' " McCain said.
Suh knows people in the one-dimensional world of sports consider anything outside its borders a distraction. But his loves of football and business are mutually beneficial, he feels.
"People might say, 'Oh, you're not focused on football, which should be the most important thing in your life,' " Suh said. "I look at this way: If I can stimulate my brain in multiple places and be able to compartmentalize them, that keeps me sharper for football. I find that's when I do my best."
On the flight home from away games, Suh typically rewatches the game on his iPad. After that, he may answer business email involving his real estate development and aviation businesses, or read the Wall Street Journal or Crain's business review.
His week is similarly spliced. On Monday, he cues up the game film and football. But from Monday evening through Tuesday, his mind will go to business. On Wednesday and Thursday, it's back to football. Friday afternoon, it's business.
"Then Saturday night I lock in on football for Sunday's game," he said. "This allows me to get sharper with football and not get overloaded. It helps me play my best, I feel."
When Suh signed his deal with the Dolphins, team owner Steve Ross got a call from Buffett, one billionaire friend to another.
"Take good care of him," Buffett told Ross. "He's going to mean a lot to you."
Buffett is flying down from Omaha for the Dolphins' Sept. 27 home opener against Buffalo with a team of 11 from Berkshire Hathaway.
"Everyone's ready to go," Buffett said.
He then adds, one friend taunting another: "I might have to talk to him about a third arm-wrestling match at some point, too. He's still looking for his first win."
— Sun Sentinel (TNS)